Is It a Sin to Take Medicine? -- to Consult a Doctor?
by Bill Crews
via Guardian of Truth XXXV: 11, pp. 321, 343-344, June 6, 1991
Some churches have been in the news lately. These are those who take the position that to treat our physical illnesses by any other way than faith in God and prayer to God is wrong and sinful. They think it a sin, they think it an indication of a lack of faith in God, to consult a doctor and to take medication or to receive medical treatment. Their honesty or sincerity is not in question here, but their handling of the Scriptures is!
The New Testament does not teach that miracles of healing are available to all believers throughout time. Such miracle-working was of a temporal duration and designed to confirm the truth being taught and to produce faith in that truth. On the miracles of Christ and their purpose read John 2:11,23; 3:2; 5:36; 6:26-27; 10:24-25,37-38; 20:30-31; Acts 2:24. On the miracles of the twelve and others read Matthew 10:1,5-8; Luke 10:1,8-9; Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4; Acts 8:5-6,13; 9:33-35, 40-42; 13:11-12; 14:3; I Corinthians 13:8-10. The word of the Lord was revealed and confirmed; it does not need to be, and it will not be, revealed again or confirmed again.
If the purpose of miracles of healing was to alleviate the physical suffering of believers and was available to any believer who had sufficient faith, we would not read about such as the following: Paul had some kind of infirmity that caused him great suffering; three times he earnestly prayed that it might be removed, but it wasn't! (II Corinthians 12:7-9) Epaphroditus came to Paul at Rome and became gravely ill, but Paul who had miraculously healed so many did not miraculously heal him (Philippians 2:25-30). And Paul who had miraculously healed so many left Trophimus at Miletus sick (II Timothy 4:20).
Certainly we are taught to have faith in God, to trust in God, and to pray diligently. We are even to pray for those who are sick (I Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:6; III John 2).
The New Testament does not teach that it is wrong to seek or receive medical attention. Healing herbs and medicines are a part of God's creation -- remedies that he made available to man. Medical practitioners are but drawing upon the knowledge and wisdom that God made available and but cooperating with and using the great laws of nature that God authored. God has given us bodies that have remarkable defenses against diseases and wonderful resources that attack diseases and work to heal injuries. He has provided a host of elements and procedures that can be discovered and properly used to prevent, alleviate or cure human suffering of all kinds. It is not a lack of faith or trust for man to utilize these. Consider the following:
- No condemnation of medical remedies can be found in the Bible (this is not an endorsement of "quack" doctors or "quack" remedies; nobody is ready to defend any but ethical practioners and proven remedies).
- If surgery on the human body is inherently wrong, why did God require circumcision of the male descendants of Abraham (Genesis 17), and why did he choose what we now know from a medical standpoint to be the best time (the 8th day)?
- Many of the laws that God gave to the Israelite nation, besides being tests of their faith, have proven to be the wise thing to do for the protection of man's physical health. Dr. R. V. Bingham authored the book, The Bible and the Body, in which he "enumerates six laws designed and instituted of God to insure Israel's national health": "Sanitation, preventing infection (Deuteronomy 23:14); Sterilization, guarding against contagion (Levitcus 11:32,39,40); Quarantine, isolating infectious disease (Numbers 5:4; 31:22-23); Hygiene and Dietetics (Leviticus 11; 19:7; Numbers 11:19-20); Physical Culture; each Israelite, even the priest, worked his own lot (Deuteronomy 16:16); Recuperation, the seventh day and the seventh month reserved for rest."
- The Bible mentions a number of plant products that were used by the people for medicinal reasons, and such use was not labelled sinful: aloe, anise, balm of Gilead, caperberry, cummin, figs, fitches, gall, mandrake, myrrh, ointment, olive oil, rue, saffron, and wine.
- To alleviate his affliction with boils Job sat in ashes and scraped his boils with a potsherd (Job 2:7-8).
- Isaiah prescribed a cake of figs to be laid upon Hezekiah's boil (II Kings 20:7).
- Physicians are referred to in such places as Job 13:4; II Chronicles 16:12; and Jeremiah 8:22. Employing the services of such physicians is not condemned. When Jeremiah wrote: "Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?" we can be sure that God was not drawing upon a figure that he regarded as sinful. It was not wrong to use balm. It was not wrong to employ the services of a physician.
- If the use of medicine for the healing of the body was sinful, God would not use such a figure in a good sense as he does in Proverbs 17:22. "A cheerful heart is a good medicine." Compare also Ezekiel 47:12 and Revelation 22:2.
- Jesus said, "They that are in health have no need of a physician; but they that are sick" (Luke 5:31). Again, this was an illustration of a point (see v. 32), but Jesus would not use as an illustration of an important spiritual point a practice that was sinful.
- Jesus taught a parable in which he depicted a man rendering medical aid to a victim of robbery (the "good Samaritan" poured oil and wine on the wounds of the injured man and bound up those wounds). He also said to the innkeeper, "Take care of him." See Luke 10:29-37.
- Paul commanded Timothy to resort to a medical remedy (to stop using water and to use a little wine) for his stomach's sake and for his frequent infirmities (I Timothy 5:23).
- Paul refers to Luke as "the beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14) about 10 years after he is first referred to in the inspired record (Acts 16:10). It could not have been a sin for a man to work as a physician. Luke was a sometime companion of Paul and wrote two New Testament books, Luke and Acts.
To be sure, both medicines and physicians are limited in what they can accomplish (yet, it stands to reason that there are still many undiscovered remedies and many unknown procedures -- the science of medicine is always in a state of growth and improvement), but it is not sinful for a Christian to either consult a physician or to take medication. Yes, he should pray unto God and trust in God. And no, he should not exalt men above God.